BossBitch: Baffled Baby Face
I work in a traditionally older environment. I’m a librarian. I have a master’s degree and everything. Many of my patrons are surprised by my age. I’m in my late-twenties but, full disclosure, I look pretty young. One might even say I have a baby face. I have a hard time commanding respect from the library patrons and a lot of the businesses and organizations we work with. There really isn’t much I can do about how young I look. I suppose I could wear more makeup or wear heels and suits more often. What do you think? How do I command respect as a young woman in an older environment without coming off as a bitch?
Dear Baffled BabyFace,
Oh man. You’ve hit on it. The ultimate paradox women in positions of power face. If we look too young or too hot we can’t possibly be responsible or mature enough to handle our responsibilities. If we dare to look attractive we’re probably just bimbos. But if we aren’t hot enough or GOD FORBID demonstrate signs of aging then we might as well be put out to pasture. I like to call this the Palin/Clinton Conundrum. Both Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton faced two sides of the sexist coin. Palin was an idiot and a harlot because she was pretty and cared about her appearance (or didn’t, who knows). Clinton was a mean ballbuster because she wore pantsuits and didn’t look like a model. People who wanted to see them fail attached themselves to both parts of that debate.
Do not change your appearance to please anyone. Ever. If you WANT to wear heels and suits and amp up the makeup, I say God bless. If you don’t give a shit about that stuff and picked working in a library partially because it didn’t require fancy makeup and constricting clothes then DON’T CHANGE A THING. The fact is, you’re behind the desk. You have the master’s degree. You have the high-tech book scanner thing. When confronted with that blatant ageism and subtle sexism, you have to double down and remind yourself that you have the good job and the post-grad degree because you’re smart, capable, and good at what you do. Perhaps these older people see someone who has their shit together in a way that they never did when they were your age. Maybe they’re just mean old grouches who should mind their own business and kindly return to their James Patterson novels. You have more important things to do. The best Boss Bitch of them all, Eleanor Roosevelt* said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Don’t give them your consent. Continue to do your thing and live your life. Don’t let the tiny voice in your head saying you’re not old/good/experienced/smart enough win. That tiny voice is a vampire and wants to suck the fun out of life and leave us all sad shells of our former selves riddled with imposter syndrome. Repeat after me: Die vampire, die! You are a badass #BossBookWorm and don’t you forget it.
*The Internet is telling me this quote was attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt in Reader's Digest in 1935, but there was no supporting evidence or context to corroborate that she actually said it. For argument’s sake, let’s all assume she did say it.
Send me your questions (firstname.lastname@example.org) about the working world and I’ll do my best to draw on my [INFORMATION REDACTED] years of experience dealing with gender nonsense in the workforce. Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies. But ask me no questions and I’ll be out of a job, so please don’t do that.